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I’m not an empty nester yet. But this month marks the last time we will have a first day of school in our house. So all you Facebook friends posting your absolutely adorable first day of school photos – you’re killing me.

My youngest, Marirose, begins her senior year, which is odd, because last time I checked, she was 7. It’s amazing how when you have three children, the older kids hit milestones but the youngest seems to stay young.

Marirose kept Santa coming to our house, and because of her, American Girl dolls were always lying around and silly Nickelodeon shows were on TV. She made sure playfulness and fun lingered in the house. She saw to it that every bit of her sisters’ teenage attitudes was balanced with some kid joy. I was always aware of that – and grateful to her.

At the beginning of every first day of school, I lined up three girls on the front step and took their picture, just like so many other moms will do this month. When I see those old photos now, I remember the work it was to buy three perfect backpacks and supplies to fill them. I remember the time spent selecting the right outfit and deciding on a ponytail or braid. It was exhausting, but I was aware – as it was happening – that I was lucky. The first day of school was always a great day.

But now I’m faced with a looming loss that is just around the corner. The other day I was in 7-11, and I watched a woman standing at the Slurpee machine with her three daughters, waiting for them as they happily jostled to fill their cups. I used to do that. And seeing it right there in front me, knowing I don’t do it anymore, was painful. I texted the girls to tell them, and they all sent back they’d go get a Slurpee any time. Klein said she would go right now if I wanted to pick her up.

I appreciated the sentiments, but it isn’t the same, and that is why I feel such heartache. My daughters are still in my life, and I’m pretty sure they always will be. (When Klein first went to college I had this paralyzing fear I would never see her again. I couldn’t figure out how the new mother/daughter relationship would work, but now I understand.) The difficulty I have now is I remember all the wonderful times Joe and I had with these little happy people, but those little people aren’t here anymore.

Those little people thought life was one big party, and Joe and I were invited. In fact, all three of them loved that we were at their party. We all danced. We savored things like milkshakes and gummy bears. We laughed and sang and hugged and held hands. We played board games, spent days at the zoo and thought nothing of changing in the car to go to the Boardwalk after a day at the beach. I’m sure there were unhappy times, but who remembers that? We just remember the party.

Everyone knows it’s sad when a good party ends. That’s where I am right now. I’ve got about an hour left ’til last call, and I’m having such a good time I don’t want to leave. But the party must end, because my kids have to go live great lives. They have to plan and attend their own parties. Joe and I will wait for our invitation, which will come, I know. For now, watching the last first day is pretty sad. But I’ll be sure to grab the camera, as I always have, and tell Marirose to smile.

September 2015
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